Charli XCX - Bonus Interview

No Holding Back

Sep 13, 2013 Issue #46 - June/July 2013 - Charli XCX Photography by Kate Garner Bookmark and Share


For Under the Radar's print cover story on Charli XCX, the English pop singer granted us two interviews. One was conducted by phone in April, minutes after she had completed soundcheck for a headlining show in London. That week, her major-label debut LP, True Romance, was released and receiving critical praise. The second interview took place the following month in Los Angeles. At that time, she was on tour with Marina and the Diamonds as a supporting act, and just days earlier, Icona Pop's recording of "I Love It," a song that Charli co-wrote, had reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. She met with Under the Radar in a rented Silver Lake house that she was sharing with her backing musicians. [Note: These are extra portions of our two interviews, quotes that didn't make it into our main print cover story in the June/July 2013 issue.]

Chris Tinkham (Under the Radar): You've covered Echo & the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon" in your shows. Did you ever go through a phase where you wanted to front a rock band, or has pop music always been your thing?

Charli XCX: Pop's always been my thing, definitely. There was a time when I was younger when I got into The Who, and I went through this phase where I wanted to drum. I really wanted to be Keith Moon. I kind of fell out of that phase.

What movies were inspiring you when you first began to write songs?

For me, at that time, I don't think I was really paying much attention to movies and stuff like that. I feel like that was kind of later on. I was really inspired by Clueless, which kind of sounds weird, because I don't think my music sounds like how Clueless the film looks, but I was inspired by how ultrastylized everything was and how well put together everything was, and the color schemes and also Sofia Coppola, all of her movies, like the grade on her movies, like The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation. I don't know why, just watching those films put me in a creative frame of mind. Same as like Chris Cunningham videos, [Björk's] "All Is Full of Love," the Aphex Twin videos. It just put me in a creative frame of mind, and I didn't really know why, but it just did.

The Craft, is that your favorite movie?

One of.

What are some of the others?

Like I said, Clueless. Carrie. Actually, I'm really excited to see the remake, just because I love that film, and I also love Chloë Moretz. I think she's a really great actress. So I'm excited to see her twist on it and bring something new to the character. Lost Boys. Vamp with Grace Jones. I also really like Shane Meadows, the British director. He did the films like This Is England and Somers Town and stuff like that. And also obviously Gummo, Harmony Korine movies are great. I actually haven't seen Spring Breakers yet, but I need to see it.

I saw that Chloë tweeted about one of your tracks. Do you know her?

We've never met, actually, but she's going to come to the show on Saturday, and I'm excited to meet her because I think she's cool. When I saw her in Kick-Ass, I was like, "Who's this girl? She's fucking cool as fuck." She's just awesome, so it's nice that she likes my music. That's cool.

Fairuza Balk's character is the one that you identify with in The Craft? What is it about her?

Nancy Downs is the character's name. I think she's one of the best characters ever written. She's so wild, and I feel like if I were a witch, I'd be exactly like her. I'd be the bad, crazy one. And the styling in that movie is so great, her character in particular. I just think Fairuza Balk is such a wonderful actress as well, even in like Return to Oz, she's great.

What do you like so much about the TV show Girls?

It's so relatable. And I think everyone who watches that show, they can relate a character to them, more so than something like Friends. I feel like Friends, they had the relatable characters, but none of them really had flaws. They were all quite perfect, stereotypically American and good-looking. Whereas I feel in Girls, there's every kind of character and every kind of girl. And every kind of guy as well, and everyone's actually kind of a freak, and I feel like that's what humans are, really. Everyone's just a freak, but some people are trying to hide it and some people embrace it.

Did you have any issues with boys when you were in school?

I have more issues with boys now than I did when I was younger. Boys were just smelly to me when I was younger. I had some friends who were boys and shit like that. I had boyfriends and that whole thing, but I don't think I was really thinking about boys all that much.

So no desperate crushes or heartbreaks at that age?

No, not really. I never ever had a crush on a pop star or anything like that when I was younger, ever. I never had that with like Boyzone or Westlife, or any of those cheesy U.K. pop bands. I never once had a crush on any boy like that. Still, to this day, I never really had that. The only person I kind of have a crush on is Robert Smith. But that's it.

But there were no boys in your school that were driving you crazy?

Not really. I think I was always driving them crazy.

Where did the ideas for songs come from if they weren't inspired by love or passion?

I guess some of them were. But I don't really know. It was about the shit that was going on in my life at that time. When you asked me that question about any burning crushes or anything like that, I don't see that as that now, but maybe when I was younger that's what that was.

You mentioned your parents' differing attitudes toward drugs. If you're a parent today and you don't want your kids to try drugs, is the reality that you're wasting your breath?

I don't know. I have a lot of friends that don't take drugs because they genuinely think it's bad. It's been instilled into their brain that it's a bad thing. I personally don't think it's a bad thing. I'm not advocating it, but that's such a line to tread. I don't know. Obviously, some drugs are terrible, but I feel like some things are shocked into people. I think it depends on who your parents are.

You don't advocate it, but it does filter into your music, right?

Yeah, one of the songs on my record is about taking Ecstasy, but that's just my experience of it and how I enjoy doing that. I like that. But I'm not saying, "Everyone should go and take it!" That's just me singing that song. That song, "Take My Hand," to someone else that could just be about getting drunk at a party or going out and having a good time with their friends. To me, it's about something else. [Laughs]

How do your writing collaborations work? Do you generally come up with the lyrics and vocal melodies?

It depends. Sometimes I take demos, like fully made demos with all the lead lines recorded and the melodies and everything, like "Set Me Free." That's a song I wrote when I was 15, and it had always been around, and I just took it to the studio and we reworked it and kept my lead lines and replayed them. And then sometimes it's just me going into the studio and collaborating from scratch. I'm very selective in who I work with. I don't like to work in the room with a lot of people. I think, having done the whole door-to-door, going into session after session after session, just completely closed me off to that. Now I like working with Ariel [Rechtshaid] and a couple of other people and that's it. Everyone else I'd rather work with over email, because I don't like meeting new people and having to form a relationship. I just don't, I don't know why. It's probably unhealthy, I just don't like it. So sometimes I'll get sent beats. That's how "Cloud Aura" happened, and that's how "So Far Away" happened.

Having the right producer is always important, but it seems especially so with pop music.

Yeah. Well, for me, personally, as an artist, I feel I like building a team around everything I do. I do all my music videos with the same guy. I work on all my songs with the same guys. I've only ever had one manager. I don't like to change things.

With "I Love It," you were sent the instrumental track for it?

Patrik [Berger], the producer, sent me this track, and I had not met him before, so I didn't want to write with him in the room [laughs], so I went to my hotel room and I wrote over it in like half an hour. And I also wrote over a rough beat for "You're the One." And I went to the studio, and I was like, "Hey, I've done this," and he was like, "Wow, it's really fuckin' cool. This is a hit." And I was like, [ambivalent] "Yeah, I don't know. Is it?" And he was like, "Yeah, it is." And I was like, "Well, I don't want to sing it. It's not me." And then, I took the vocal, just so we could like have it, and then Icona Pop came down to the studio a week later and sung over my vocal, and they're like, "We love it, we want it." And I was like, "Cool, have it! I don't want it," and I stand by that still. It's not right for me, that song, in the demo version or the way that it ended up. So it was cool that they sung it, 'cause I was worried it was going to go to someone really awful that I would hate. But I don't hate them, I think they're great.

Have you gotten flack for Brooke Candy's reference to Chris Brown in the rap for "Cloud Aura"?

That's her rap. I don't like to be told to edit my shit. I hate that, and sometimes when people ask me to edit a verse or change shit, I'll say, "OK, well, just don't have my song." I don't like being told to change my words, and that's probably really irresponsible, but if she wants to say that, then she can say it. And, I actually think that when you listen to the lyrics of it, she says, "You were my Chris Brown/I was your only girl." She's kind of implying exactly what happened there. Like, you were this amazing person and then you completely fucked me over.... That's my interpretation of it. Obviously, yeah, it caused some controversy, hardly, but I can't control what she says. She's her own artist with her own identity, and I respect her for that. She puts her ass on the line a lot, and I'm not going to tell her what to do. It was just an honor to work with her.

In Stereogum's Album of the Week write-up for True Romance, the writer mentioned how he didn't realize how much cussing was on the record until he played it with his kids in the car. Does the cursing come naturally, or is that part of the hip-hop influence? 

To be honest, I didn't really realize that until you just said that. When I think about my album, I don't think of it as having lots of swearing on it. When I think about an album with lots of swearing on it, I think of an Eminem record, so I don't know. But, now that you say it, there is kind of a lot of swearing on it, I guess. Some. I don't know. Like, I swear a lot. If you see me perform, I'm always like: "Fucking do this, fucking jump, fucking c'mon! Get the fuck up!" I don't really think about it. For me, when I write, it's very spontaneous. I don't think about shit like that or anything.

What's the biggest misconception about you?

Probably that my name stands for X-rated Cunt X-rated, or that I'm some kind of sex fiend or something, I don't know. I feel like, because of the sound of my name, everyone always relates it to sex, which is really annoying, 'cause it actually means kiss-Charli-kiss, which is really cute and very unsexy. That kind of bugs me. I've recently tried not to read shit like that, so I don't really know.

The moments during the album where you rap or sing-speak highlight your British-ness. Was that a characteristic that you consciously wanted to showcase?

Not really my British-ness so much. I do really like having a British accent. British accents are really cute. But no, not really, I wasn't consciously trying to be British or mockney or anything like that. It's just, that's how I speak, so that's how I did it.

During your early days of writing music, did Lady Sovereign have any impact on you?

No. It's funny. When I was younger and used to Google myself, I read a lot of like, "Oh, Lady Sovereign." But no. She did this song, I can't remember what it's called, but it sampled my favorite song by The Cure, "Close to Me," and I was heartbroken, because I thought it was fucking shit. I was really upset. I was like, "Why did she use my favorite song?! No!"     

You've mentioned how watching Coldplay perform made you cry. What kinds of things make you cry?

When something's really overwhelming, or when something reminds me of a film, or when something's just so beautiful. I cried when I saw Robyn play as well. It was so beautiful and epic. Something plucks a heartstring, and I'll start crying.

Did you say when something reminds you of a film?

Yeah. Like the Coldplay show reminded me of E.T. I don't know why, but it did.

Have you noticed a difference between how your music is being received in the U.K. and in the U.S.?

Sometimes London, especially, is quite snobby when it comes to music, whereas generally in America, I've found even in New York and L.A. people are really up for it all the time, which is really cool.

You seem pretty athletic onstage. Do you have an athletic background?

[Laughs] No. I hate the gym, I hate running. I used to play hockey when I was younger, but I wasn't very good. I'm not very sporty as a person at all.

Like street hockey? Or ice hockey?

Not ice hockey. [Laughs] More like grass hockey, I guess.... If I played ice hockey, that would be amazing. [Laughs]

Have you ever been in a fight?

Like a verbal one or a physical one?

A physical one.

I've slapped someone at a club but apart from that, no. I've thrown things at walls but I've never actually come out with a black eye or anything.

The incident in the club, was it a guy?

Yeah. It was this gay queen who was being really bitchy to me and my friends, so I slapped him. I was like, "I can't be doing this," you know? He was trying to be really rude to my gay friends. He was this old queen, and I was like, "Oh my God, this is so ridiculous."

Once you slapped him, was the incident over? No repercussions?

It was a typical bitchy fight. It was fine. I think I just went somewhere else, or he went somewhere else.

What do you like to do in your downtime?

Watch movies, eat Mexican food, watch music videos, just sit in silence, that kind of thing. Just chill, totally chill. Or go out and get really fucked up and not have to worry about when my voice is going to be there the next day.

With the album out and your schedule the way it is, you won't be able to do much of that anytime soon, is that right?

I'll make time. [Laughs]

[This article first appeared in Under the Radar's June/July 2013 digital issue.]



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